How do I build an emotional life boat with 6 months provisions, yesterday?
May 17, 2010 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me cope with multiple major life stressors in a situation where I can't seem to see many choices, at least in the short term.

The short version: I am in a foreign country, with very limited means. My husband is getting treatment for a mild/moderate form of a serious mental disorder. It will take at least 6 to 8 months for me to be able to move us back to a situation where we have a support network and the means to get therapy. In the meantime, I have a young child and ill husband to look after, and I am worried that I am slipping into depression. What can I do to hold myself together while the long term plan unfolds itself?

The long version:

Background: Shortly after getting married about five years ago, life started handing my husband and I giant balls of stress, each one bigger than the previous. First my father got very unwell, then I got pregnant, my father's illness got worse, then better, then I had to have an emergency C-section delivery, then two weeks after that I had to have a major surgery to clean up an abdominal infection, then a few weeks after that my father died. Oh, and somewhere in there, my parents were moving half-way around the world, too. So somewhere in the period where I was learning to be a mother, recovering from the physical trauma of two major surgeries in two weeks, and grieving for the loss of my father, I think I went through a period of depression, which ended about two years ago.

At about the time that I was starting to come out of my depression, my husband was transferred to work under someone he really just couldn't stand, and although the transfer came with a pay raise, it also entailed a loss of some perks.

By December 2008, my husband was showing clear signs of being in need of psychiatric help, but it wasn't until April that he actually went on medication.

We're from the Indian subcontinent, so, as is cultural norm, we were living in the family home, with my mother-in-law. My husband's family (mom and siblings and siblings' spouses and nieces and nephews) has been extremely supportive in all of this, both practically and emotionally. My own family (mom and siblings) lives halfway around the world, but is as supportive as it can be from afar.

Since my husband's psychiatric condition was accompanied by visible, physical symptoms, he was able to take a medical leave from work. Once he was on medication for the psychiatric as well as physical symptoms, he went back to work. At that point, his company transferred him to a division in a Middle Eastern (ME) country, at 4 weeks notice.

Normally, for ME transfers, the employee goes first, stays in company accommodation, and sorts out living arrangements for the family, who follow a few months later. In our case, that wasn't an option, because he needed a caregiver. So we moved together, with all the logistics that entails.

We also did not have time to examine the conditions of the transfer too carefully, partly because everyone thought that getting away from the horrible boss, and being in a new, rapidly growing part of the company would be good for my husband's health.

Oh, and we are both professionals (mid-30s, early-40s), but my career has come to a stuttering then screeching halt in all of this.

Current situation: The end result is that we are living in significantly straitened circumstances, because the cost of living is insanely high here. Until this month, we weren't sure at the end of the month whether we'd be able to buy the groceries for the last few days before his next paycheck. My search for a job, which has been constrained by the fact that I can only work part-time has been fruitless so far. My husband got a small raise recently, so we are no longer quite so stretched financially, but we still are living at a considerably lower standard than either of us has been used to in a very long time.

Our child is vocally unhappy about being away from grandmother and extended family. I do my best to validate those feelings and be supportive, but also distract and try to point out the good things about being here.

I dislike our new country of residence quite intensely. I've lived in different cultures, so it's not about being unwilling to engage with or explore the new culture. It's not liking what I'm finding, and also, that the things that interest me are not available for free or cheap here.

My husband and I probably should see a marital counselor. I thought so even before he got ill (different communication styles, emotional baggage that I was completely unaware of, differing expectations about gender roles), but we are not currently able to afford that. My husband should probably be getting talk therapy as well as meds, but we can't afford that for now.

We are far away from our support networks. Both of us had lived in our previous town for most of our adult lives. He has his family network there; I have a network of close friends and colleagues.

It has seemed clear to me from a few months after we got here that we needed to move back if this situation was to remain sustainable.

At this point, my husband is willing to make a request at the end of this year for a transfer back home.

In the meantime, I find myself getting extremely down, having a hard time dragging myself out of bed, having a hard time sleeping. I was getting regular exercise earlier in the year, but it is now too hot to exercise outside, and I have a hard time motivating myself to do so indoors. What worries me more is that I am having a hard time controlling my temper with my child. Don't want to yell and scream, but have very little patience with what my mind knows is just typical toddler-ness.

I need to stay well for the next six months or so, so that I can arrange our move back. I am not interested in leaving my marriage; I just want to figure out how to cope until I can put the bigger pieces together once we are better situated.

Things I am doing already: a) working on completing the masters degree that also kept getting sidetracked by the various life events that I've already talked about. The coursework is complete, working on the thesis, in fits and starts. b) eating more healthily c) trying to establish some kind of daily routine d) reacquainting myself with old hobbies

I know that one of my big problems is needing human interaction that I'm not getting. Have not been able to figure out free/really inexpensive ways to do that.

Also, mental illness is a pretty big taboo subject in our home culture, as well as in our current home country. So support groups don't exist, as far as our quite good psychiatrist knows. This makes it difficult for me to make new friends, because the subject I most need to talk about is the one I can least talk about.

So, can the hive mind help me figure out how to keep it together long enough to make it back to shore?

Thank you in advance to those of you who took the time to read all of this, and to those of you who take the time to answer. for email followup
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your husband's work not provide any kind of support for situations like this? Many American companies that require employees to travel understand the kind of stress this can put on a family.

It is awesome that both of you are already seeking help — that is the hardest, absolutely the hardest step, admitting you need help. But I feel like his employer should be offering you more. More money, more support, more understanding.

I had to seek counseling through my husband's company during one international stint that was particularly hard for us.

In terms of finding relationships outside of the marriage, can you not organize a weekly coffee meet-up for local mothers who are in your same position? A play group? Anything to get you out of the house and socializing with people other than just your husband and child.

I'm sorry I don't have more to offer you. Good luck.
posted by Brittanie at 7:09 AM on May 17, 2010

My husband should probably be getting talk therapy as well as meds, but we can't afford that for now.

Does your company not provide health insurance? You should both be in some kind of therapy as soon as possible. If you have no insurance, are there no facilities that are low cost, sliding scale or similar in that area?

If you can't find that, start your own group therapy. Anyone in similar situations who could come together weekly and just talk about all the stresses involved in being in situations like yours. There must be others in the company or other companies who are dealing with these same kinds of problems and if you could sit down and talk to each other it would probably help immensely. Are there no other international workers there?

If you don't feel comfortable arranging that - perhaps you can start it as a book club or a lunch club, hosting others at your home, rotating homes - eventually you will all start talking about problems. I just get the really strong sense that what you need is a support network so that you don't feel isolated or overwhelmed by these issues, so you don't feel like you're dealing with them alone.

Is there any way to put something like that together?
posted by jardinier at 7:32 AM on May 17, 2010

We are far away from our support networks.

Is there anyone you confided in about these issues before you moved? Might that person (or people) be willing to have a standing appointment with you once a week to talk by phone, Skype, or e-mail?
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2010

You mentioned that you don't have access to any support groups, but perhaps you could find one online. Try googling for your husband's specific illness and if that doesn't bring any results, maybe try some general mental health support groups. As with anything online, some groups are going to be better than others, but hopefully you'll find a group you can feel comfortable with, even if it's just lurking and reading about other people's experiences who are in your same situation.

Best wishes.
posted by amyms at 9:24 AM on May 17, 2010

It might help to focus on the micro a bit. You've got a lot of BIG things going on, and the little ones are stacking up and chipping away at you. Ask for hugs from people. Here's one now. *hug*. Carve out little moments in the day to clear your mind. If only for a minute. Before you leave the bathroom, glance at yourself and tell yourself something nice in your head. Marvel at how much you're taking on. Take a minute to breathe. And for that minute, realize that that is ALL you HAVE to do. Because really, that is all that is required of you in this life (well, food and shelter). When eating your food, slow down for one bite. Add spice maybe. Find a way to be creative in small moments. All your energy you had at your job is bottled. You were probably doing something creative then, and you are probably not tapped into that now. Even if it's just folding laundry. Stack it differently. Arrange by color, for the hell of it. Make lists. Especially if those lists allow you to delete emails, throw away scraps of paper, or remove stray thoughts wandering around in your brain.

These things aren't selfish. Also, they're not stupid and useless either. They matter. And right now, you've got so much other stuff going on, that these are your mini escapes. It's you taking care of yourself and reinforcing the truth that you matter and are capable.

If you can get rid of anything or drop anything, do so. Your house, piles of paper, email inbox, furniture...they can start to amount to mental clutter. Clear a path.

And find people to hug. If you can look into a massage school, there might be a student there who needs a body to work on. They often love people who have stresses or problems, because those people present healthy challenges for them to work on. And you need the physical contact. As well as the downtime.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think it could really help if you try as best you can to motivate yourself to exercise. You say it's too hot to exercise outdoors but how about swimming? Or else to try and motivate yourself to exercise indoors, reward yourself afterwards with something that isn't expensive such as an hour spent guilt-free reading a good book. Check out exercise DVDs that sound like fun such as kick boxing or hip hop dancing or whatever strikes your fancy. A Wii + Wii Fit might be out of your price range but if you can swing it I think it could be worth it.
posted by hazyjane at 9:52 AM on May 17, 2010

Can you send your child back to grandma for an extended holiday? Is there a logistical reason why your husband can't ask to be transferred back now or his mental illness preventing him from seeing that as viable? If your salary does not match the cost of living I would think the company would be aware of the problem and be flexible.

There are online support groups as well as online talk therapy for both individuals and couples. You have had an incredibly stressful time the past few years. Good for you in all you have accomplished the past years despite it!
posted by saucysault at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2010

I came here to suggest something similar to saucysault. The flipside of the poor external support of Indian and Middle Eastern cultures is that family can often act as a great social safety net. As the child of two Indians with demanding jobs I often spent time with my grandparents when my parents needed some time off or were unable to take care of me for some reason. I never grudged my parents the time they needed and was perfectly happy to be spoiled by my grandparents. Is there any reason why this would not be an option?
posted by peacheater at 2:31 PM on May 17, 2010

From the OP:
I wanted to respond to some of the questions coming in the comments.

1) We do have health insurance, but nothing mental health related is covered. We had to have our GP order the physical tests that the psychiatrist wanted, otherwise we would have had to pay out of pocket for them. The psychiatrist's fees and medicines are all out of pocket expenses.
2) Asking for support from the company is difficult because a) most of the employees choose to leave their wives and children in their home countries, so the company really doesn't have any kind of support structures set up, b) it would be risky to disclose my husband's illness. There is nothing like the ADA to provide protection (and I gather that even in the US a lot of people don't feel safe disclosing mental illness).
3) Asking for a transfer now isn't practical for a combination of reasons, which I'd really not rather get into. Suffice to say it's a complicated combination of my husband's illness, cultural norms, and economic conditions.
4) Yes, I do have friends from home who are aware of the situation I'm in, and I try to IM chat with them regularly. Time differences don't always make this possible. Phone is prohibitively expensive, and Skype and other VOIP services are not accessible.
5) I do know that getting exercise helps, and I am trying to get back into the swing of it. Haven't been committed enough, though, I guess. It's one of those vicious/virtuous cycle things, right? Once I get started, other things will feel better. But because other things feel bad, it's hard to get started... anyway. Another "suck it up and get on with it thing".
6) I am actively seeking out online support groups. Still searching for one that is active enough and sensitive enough to cultural differences to feel supportive. In a weird way, support groups online can actually be quite depressing. Dunno if that's just me or a common feeling.
7) Sending child to grandma is an option I've considered. However, AnonymousJr's presence is a tremendously positive force in MrAnonymous' life, and both of them are utterly miserable without each other. Also, AnonymousJr has had too much upheaval and really gets miserable when parents are missing. Finally, AnonymousJr is one of the few reasons I drag myself out of bed in the morning. I am very aware that the situation is much less than ideal for AnonJr, but having left child with grandmother for two weeks when we were househunting in the new country, I know how much insecurity that kind of separation engenders in AnonJr. So I've not considered that a viable option for any real length of time. Child is too young to travel independently, also, in my view. And the money for the tickets just isn't there. I have an emergency stash for just that. A real emergency. In case I need to get my son and myself out of a dangerous situation. Before mefites start panicking, that is currently not the case at all, but with an illness along the bipolar spectrum, it always remains a possibility, so I have a contingency plan in place. I can't afford to use that cash for anything else.
8) iamkimiam: your suggestions sound like they might actually be extremely helpful. thank you. I will try to implement some of them immediately.
9) saucysault: my GoogleFu has been ineffective at finding online therapy. Any suggestions for sources that people have had positive experience(s) with would be most appreciated.
10) jardinier: I keep telling myself I should start something like a book club, but I just have not had the energy to do it. The house is in too much chaos for me to feel comfortable inviting people over. Which of course brings us back to iamkimiam's advice. Also, as I said, there's a huge taboo about mental illness. My husband has disclosed to no one that he has this illness. I have disclosed to a few friends, and to immediate family. The "keeping family matters private" current runs VERY strong, culturally, and in his family, in particular. My husband is aware that mothers and siblings, and in my case, paternal uncle, are all in the know. He's never asked about whether my friends know; I've never discussed my disclosure to them with him. Perhaps I'm overanxious about it, but I do worry about his reaction if I'm telling "people I've just met" when he hasn't felt comfortable telling his oldest childhood friend (who lives in the same city as us right now). Expat circles tend to be very tight, very small, and gossip travels fast. I also worry about the fallout for him if word gets back to someone at work.

Thank you all for your suggestions and support. If anyone has any further advice, I would appreciate it tremendously. And once again, is the address for followup if you prefer to do so privately.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:26 PM on May 17, 2010

"Skype and other VOIP services are not accessible."

I've been in countries where this is the case...except it's not. Commonly you can use a VPN (a virtual private network) to get around those sort of firewalls.

I've used hotspot shield in the past. It's free and pretty much started/stopped by your browser. There are 'pay' services that do this as well.

Last, while they may be blocking Skype, they might not be blocking google voice, Gizmo or one of a dozen other video/IP apps
posted by filmgeek at 5:40 AM on May 18, 2010

« Older Ugh.   |   Non-profit financial blues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.